Panel Attorney Training for Parole Suitability Hearings
Recently, I attended the Board of Parole Hearing’s training session for the panel attorneys they appoint to represent inmates at their parole suitability hearings. They have been doing this annual training for several years, but just recently opened it up so that private attorneys can attend. While there was some useful information for attorneys who already know the parole process, the training was woefully inadequate for someone new to the process. Even for seasoned veterans on the BPH appointment panel, the recommended procedures for hearing preparation are minimal: visit the client once, review the C-File, and show up at the hearing.
Half of the day was dedicated to ADA issues, which are important, but that leaves only a few hours of training on how to prepare for and be effective at a parole suitability hearing.
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One meeting with a parole client before the hearing is not nearly enough to prepare the client for the hearing. A good attorney will spend many hours with the inmate, discussing the work that the inmate needs to do in order to be found suitable for parole. The inmate needs to be able to fully discuss the four pillars of parole suitability: Insight, Remorse, Culpability and Responsibility; and be able to fully explain the broad victimology of the commitment offense. Helping the inmate achieve this level of understanding takes several meetings and many hours.
During these preparation meetings, the attorney must also discuss the commitment offense with the inmate, to determine whether to talk about it at the hearing and reconcile any inconsistencies with the official record. This requires a deep familiarity with the case.
Another key element of parole suitability is parole plans. A good private attorney will help connect the inmate with resources in the community, to shore up the inmate’s parole plans. This includes transitional housing, 12-step programs, job offers, sponsors, and community support. Support letters from family, friends, and community members need to be specific and carefully written to convey to the Board that the inmate will have everything he needs when he comes home. Appointed attorneys are not taught to assist family and friends with writing effective support letters, let alone connect the inmate with resources he doesn’t already know.
What a Private Attorney Can Do
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Panel attorneys are not taught to do any of these things. The Board of Parole Hearings selects, trains, and pays panel attorneys to face off with its commissioners. It pays its commissioners over $100,000 per year, and it pays its panel attorneys a maximum of $400 per hearing. That $400 has to cover the attorney’s time consulting with the inmate, reviewing the central file, reviewing the psych report, 65-day packet, and 10-day packet, and representing the inmate at the parole suitability hearing. A panel-appointed attorney simply does not have the incentive to put in the amount of time and effort required in order to successfully prepare an inmate for a parole suitability hearing.
As a private attorney, I generally visit the inmate at least three times in advance of the hearing, to prepare him to fully articulate the key elements of insight, remorse, culpability, responsibility and victimology. Additionally, I work with resources in the community to get job offers, transitional housing, and 12-step sponsors in place, waiting for the inmate upon release. I also work with the inmate’s family members and friends to help them write meaningful, specific support letters, that will be valuable to the Board.